Interview with Jane Monica-Jones
Are you financially depressed?
This is how you beat it. If you’re at peak money stress, it's not too late to turn things around.
Body & Soul Margaux Harley
If you’re at peak money stress, it's not too late to turn things around.
Meet Catherine, 30: On top of attempting to keep up with escalating rental and electricity prices in Sydney, she feels as if her dream of owning a home is becoming just that - a dream.
Catherine's mum, Lee, 57, owns her home, but after refinancing the house after separating from Catherine's father, her mortgage repayments are now bigger than when she first bought the property 20 years ago.
Then there's Catherine's grandmother, Kathy, 78, who, after her electricity bills sky-rocketed by 90 per cent compared to last year, won't use her air conditioning this summer out of fear that her pension won't stretch that far.
Sadly, these women aren't alone. According to a National Australia Bank survey released earlier this year, four in 10 Aussies had experienced financial stress in the previous three months, with 17 per cent not having enough money to pay for food, and one in five unable to pay a bill.
It's during this holiday season that many Aussies feel a surge in financial stress - and no wonder given that our average post-Christmas credit card debt is $1666 per person, according to an analysis of Reserve Bank of Australia data.
This can have a devastating effect on someone's mental health. "Your self-esteem and sense of worth can get hammered," financial therapist Jane Monica-Jones says. "It's not only the [cost of] presents - it's the time off work, and the possible holiday. When we feel pressure that we can't meet what others are doing, we feel as if we're not performing."
This can have a devastating effect on someone's mental health.
"Your self-esteem and sense of worth can get hammered," financial therapist Jane Monica-Jones says.
"It's not only the [cost of] presents - it's the time off work, and the possible holiday. When we feel pressure that we can't meet what others are doing, we feel as if we're not performing."
How did we get here?
Over the past decade, housing prices in our capital cities have increased at double the rate of our wages, social demographer Mark McCrindle says.
"If you have house prices going up at twice the rate of wages, and utilities bills going up even faster, that creates the biggest financial challenge," he adds. "Ultimately, we're losing purpose and power." Not only that, but McCrindle says all generations now face the mounting costs of living in the 'gig economy', in which temporary, part-time and contract jobs are the norm.
"We have new categories of spend we've never had before," he adds. "Mobile phones, Wi-Fi, internet subscriptions - the whole digital economy has come with new costs."
The damaging effect that everyday pressures can have on a person's mental health is something that Monica-Jones sees all too often.
"This is a big shift from when the ratio of mortgage to income was far less. It's a huge psychological pressure and a huge stress pressure on people," she says.
Honesty is the first step
Understanding the state of your finances is the first, pivotal step towards making the necessary changes to improve your financial and mental wellbeing, Monica-Jones explains.
"Compassion and vulnerability are the starting points for change," she says.
"From a practical sense, do a self-audit and be ruthlessly honest about where you stand financially.
"You need to have frank conversations with the people you love, and be truthful. That might mean taking a shorter holiday, or you might not buy as much, but you might be able to contribute more in other ways."
Connect more, consume less
You say Christmas, we think ham, prawns and days in the sunshine.
So, how can we shake off the need to buy excessive gifts and overpriced festive fare and instead get back to basics?
"A plastic toy is an easy thing to think of at Christmas, but something that will really touch your children's hearts and show how much they're seen and appreciated may not cost that much," Monica-Jones says.
"That link between our finances and depression is there, and what better way to get back to the real sense of Christmas - which is about appreciation and connection - than by giving presents that reflect the value we have for the people in our lives." The take-home message?
Reconnect with your loved ones - and give your bank account a well-earned break.
"In an age of unrealistic financial goals, we think we're going to get more connections from 'the biggest and the best', but it doesn't always turn out that way," Monica-Jones says.
"In fact, the connections turn up in ways that are simplistic, and that are about people listening to each other and spending time together."
If you or someone you know needs help and support, call Beyondblue on 1300 224 636 or Lifeline on 131 114.
5 tips to spend less this Christmas
1 BE FRANK WITH YOUR FAMILY
Tell them Christmas is about quality over quantity this year.
2 SELL UNWANTED THINGS FIRST
Old clothes, jewellery, appliances and more can be sold online, giving you extra cash and perhaps even improving someone else's Christmas.
3 SHOP AT QUIET TIMES WITH A PRESENT LIST
Shopping when it's less crowded allows you to choose more carefully, and having a list of present ideas keeps your stress levels low and your budget intact.
4 GET EVERYONE TO PITCH IN WITH MEALS
Asking your family to bring a plate to your Christmas get-together encourages a sense of community, and will save you money in the long run.
5 GET EXPERT HELP
Contact a financial counselling service to learn more ways of how to manage your money. For more information, visit anglicare.org.au or salvos.org.au